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A STUDY ON EMPLOYABILITY IN THE IRON FOUNDRY ENTERPRISES OF HOWRAH

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Avik Roy, 2Gopalkrishna Chakrabarti, 3Arnab Das.
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UGC-NET Senior Research Fellow, Department of Anthropology, University of Calcutta; Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of

Calcutta; Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Calcutta.

Abstract: ‘Employability’ generally means quality of being employable. Since it stresses on learning and progressing in the work place, it indicates that the proprietorial establishment has an important role to play in facilitating the employability in the workplace. The cast iron foundry industry is one of the most labor-intensive industries, with around 6000 foundries in the country. They continue to be plagued by problems of lack of good infrastructure and low skilled labor making it difficult for them to compete in the globalizing economy that stresses for new production system. Further, as 11th five year plan, as well as approach paper to 12th five year plan points out that the majority of the workers in the MSMEs are the marginalized sections of Indian populations who already are impoverished, it becomes even more important to address the problems of this sector. This article set out to study the practices of employability in the Howrah foundry industry, the first organized modern cast iron industrial cluster in India. For this study, a sample of thirty-six (36) foundry units has been purposively chosen in a way so that it represents a credible and acceptable cross section of the Howrah Foundry industry. The questionnaire focused on (a) understanding employer’s or proprietor’s perception of changing markets in last few decades and its effects on labor market, and (b) hiring and contracting practices of the firm. In light of some of the newer dimensions emerging out of this study, the article concludes that though the foundry units are beginning to feel the heat of competition, but the processes of employability strategy are not yet mature. Keywords: Employability, MSME, Howrah, Organization, Foundry, Anthropology.

next only to agriculture (http://msme. accounting for 85% new job creation (Hamilton and Dana 2003) all over the world (Gerrard et al.99 is an industrial undertaking in which investment in fixed assets in plant and machinery. The definition of a small -scale unit as of 21. while Chakravarty and Bose (2009) studied the impact of different institutions on the manufacturing output of the industries of West Bengal. Substantive amount of work on industrial labor. 1 Here I take into consideration only the registered small units. ‘Micro small and medium size enterprises’ (MSMEs) are regarded as the engine of economic growth (Woldie and Adersua 2004). industry or enterprisei. It has been estimated that an investment of one lakh rupees (in fixed assets) in the small-scale sector generates employment for four people 1. and attitudes that integrate individuals as they participate in the industrial process of production. The MSME industrial sector contributes 40% of the gross manufacture to the Indian economy (Kelibach 2008). formal or informal.12. .INTRODUCTION In anthropological terms. Nowadays.gov. The state’s industrialization experience has been analyzed relative to the performance of seven other leading industrialized states of India (Dasgupta 1998). The smallscale industry (SSI) historically has been one of the most important sectors in a developing economy like India. While some provided an account and assessment of the social security and insurance arrangements in India with regard to factory workers (Dasgupta 1994). values. many of them being migrants who came to the industrial area of Kolkata (erstwhile Calcutta) and adjoining areas. This sector alone in India creates the largest employment opportunities for the Indian populace. some others chose to discuss economics of fright equalization in West Bengal foundries (Datta 2004).in). had been done too (De Haan 1997). involves the social arrangements of persons and the cultural systems of meaningful symbols. whether small or big. There had been studies on investment pattern in labour and technology in Indian SMEs (Rajeev 2008). does not exceed Rs 10 million. whether held on ownership terms or lease or hire. A substantial amount of work had been done on the Indian MSMEs too. 2003).

The skill sets. learning and content. understanding and personal attributes that make individual more likely to gain employment and be successful in their chosen occupation” (Caledonian University 2005). in scholarly works. it is a process and a strategy and has been increasingly understood as process of remaining employed in the changing work conditions (Van Buren III 2003). skills.In this regard. a study. it indicates . which deals with the economy of West Bengal in general. usability. Employability as it is envisaged appears to be a process of maintaining a job and progressing in the work place. since employability stresses on learning and progressing in the work place (Bischoff 1978). shows its concern about the poor condition of the SSI sector in West Bengal in spite of having all the necessary ingredients for growth (Banerjee et al. However. Further. 2002). the rationale for the sector ’s existence and growth and the challenges in the sector would help in contextualizing employability specifically to that sector. whether the product is manufactured commodity or rendering of any service. while discussing employability orientation refers it as set of attitudes of employees towards interventions aimed at increasing organizations flexibility through developing and maintaining workers’ employability for the organization (Van Dam 2004). Employability as a concept has been increasingly pursued in recent anthropological literature (Koyl 1956. This indicates that employability is a process which helps the workers to participate productively in a flexible organization. 2007). Van Dam. It would also help in assessing how employability can be used in the specific sector and the impediments it might face in using it as a strategy. underscores the different facets of employability as “set of achievements. work content or participate in training so that workers are capable of adapting to changes and requirements of a flexible organization (Van Dam 2004). A paper prepared by Caledonian University. The word ‘employability’ generally means quality of being employable. The process of learning is inherent to the production system. It is a macro concept that can fit as a strategy across any sector or production system. Arocena et al. being flexible and progressing at the workplace are common to all sectors. This would require changes in job. job content could vary across sectors but the foundation of the concept of learning. This signifies that understanding the production mechanisms and the nature of the sector.

when Kolkata. The history of the foundry cluster. During the post-independence period. In the seventies. the situation has shown signs of improvement. pressure on landuse due to high levels of urbanization. in the early nineties. financial and the general unorganized nature of production (Dasgupta 1999). erstwhile Calcutta. obsolete asset base / production facilities. coal and a large pool of skilled labor ensured a competitive advantage to the cluster. Migration of skilled labor to other upcoming foundry clusters in other states is also noticed. However. it appears that foundries in India have a long . Since liberalization. The cluster used to be considered the Sheffield of India. Markets declined to low value products of the simplest kind and owners lost interest in their business.that the economic establishment has an important role to play in facilitating the employability in the workplace. These industries also face bottlenecks of low skills levels. the medium sized firms owned by the British were sold to the new entrepreneurial community of Marwaris. The Area: The city of Howrah has been selected for the empirical study for the reason that Howrah foundry cluster happened to be the first organized modern industrial cluster in India. If we begin to contextualize employability in foundry units. Continued availability of cheap pig iron. The challenges the foundry industry of Howrah sector is facing are many and diverse. was the political and commercial capital. Technology remained stagnant with little or no reinvestment. is synonymous with the rise of British mercantile colonialism in India. and stringent enforcement of environmental norms continue to haunt the foundry units located at Howrah. inadequate infrastructure both physical. the State witnessed some major labor unrest that resulted in the sale or closure of a large number of industrial units in West Bengal. Many non-Bengali industrialists moved out of the state and a large number of the Bengali owned small foundries were closed down. Eventually the Howrah cluster lost all of its traditionally built up competitive advantage. poor infrastructure facilities. along with the jute industry. The smaller firms continued to remain under the control of second generation of Bengali entrepreneurs. It was set up during the British rule. Industrial development in West Bengal is of particular interest for important theoretical and policy-oriented implications.

They continue to be plagued by problems of lack of good infrastructure and low skilled labor making it difficult for them to compete in the globalizing economy that stresses for new production system. They are a) employer’s (in many cases it’s the manager of the unit in study) or proprietor’s perception of changing markets in last few decades and its effects on labor market. the present study after exploration of the field find the following objectives emerging at the micro level of the organizational units. as well as approach paper to 12th five year plan points out that the majority of the workers in the MSMEs are the marginalized sections of Indian populations who already are impoverished. The Objectives The main focus of this study is on understanding main on-going changes the foundry units. sampling in qualitative research follows a distinct logic. The logic and power of purposeful sampling is founded on . practices of employability. mostly in the SSI sector). In this context. in order to bring out the specific features and organizational features that are region-based. it becomes even more important to address the problems of this sector. as 11th five year plan. It is very necessary to have policies that will support the sector and achieve efficiency to survive in the competitive market. and the overall challenges these industries are facing in this regard. Methods and Design of the study Selection of Sample Regardless of data-gathering modes chosen. one of the most labor-intensive industries (with around 6000 foundries in the country. employer’s perspective on employment. Further.history and continue to be an important source of job for millions. The questionnaire is divided into following categories that have bearing on employment processes. The present work is an attempt to study this important industry in the SSI sector of the state. Generally speaking. produces nearly 3. it also appears that it did not receive kind of support the big businesses received in India. qualitative inquiry focuses in depth on relatively small samples that are selected purposefully. the cast iron foundry industry. and b) Hiring and contracting practices of the firm The cast iron foundry industry. viz.3 million tons of castings annuallyii.

For this study. The owners along with the management consented and authorized a go – ahead to the researcher and cooperated fully to the research work as promised. learning firsthand how they accomplish their work on a daily basis. rather than a rigid step-by-step ‘how to’ prescription (Sperschneider and Bagger 2001) that is to be done impromptu. comprising of proprietors. number of years they are in business. It is also a matter of ‘adaptation’ on the part of a fieldworker. and nine (9) from Benaras Road. Thirty six (36) foundry units from areas recognized as industrial belts (namely Belgachhia. spending sufficient time there to understand and learn how to conduct themselves according to the norms of the setting. total turn over a year. etc. number of employees.) of Howrah district are selected for the study. and events that will provide rich and detailed information regarding the research question. A total of one hundred and forty three (143) individuals associated with the above mentioned foundry units. on ad-hoc basis. and small scale order suppliers responded to the survey. seven (7) from Salkia. purposive. ii. Gathering data through participant observation. Of these. and these vary in . eight (8) from Bamungachhi. locational advantage. Cross – Sectional Representation: The units have been purposively chosen in a way so that therein lies variation in terms of size. people. contractors. how they understand and experience their work. Salkia. making the most ( Baszanger and Dodier 1997) out of a situation. Method Fieldwork is a matter of techniques. Bamungachhi. permanent and temporary employees. and in some cases. Interviews provided another avenue for gaining observations.deliberately searching out and selecting settings. etc. The rationale behind the choice being so that it represents a credible and acceptable cross section of the Howrah Foundry culture. These units have been chosen because of the following factors: i. the researcher tried to enter and become a part of the actual context in which people pursue their work. number of owners and their ethnicity. Observations are logged and converted into field notes on a daily basis. Locational Accessibility and Informed Consent: All the above mentioned units permitted access for the research work. twelve (12) foundry units are from Belgachhia. snowball sampling method is used.

Foundries are also forced to adopt ways of production that cater to the emerging market. the managers are asked about their views on some of the major changes that they have noticed in the business environment in the last few decades. actions. and employees of these foundry units. interviews have been organized through highly structured and standard interview protocols or semiformal conversation guides. Major changes in the business environment in last two decades The proprietors. For many of them (almost 25%) it is the government apathy towards foundry industry. Charts are made out of information extracted from these detailed case studies and questionnaires. Figure 1 summarizes their opinions as answers to the question. along with the use of questionnaire format. Through interviews. perceptions. and feelings (Miller and Fox 1997). Study of Select Small Scale Enterprises Since employability is a process of ongoing learning and requires organization to adopt wider processes to foster it. informal exchanges. experiences. In many cases subjects have been interviewed multiple times to gain their stable and changing perspectives on events as they unfold. we have adopted a qualitative methodology of in-depth interviewing for the case studies. t he researcher’s intention is to collect people’s accounts of their work lives.the extent to which they are structured and formalized (Holstein and Gabrium 1997). A) Employer’s and/or Proprietor’s Perception of Changing Markets The data are collected in the context of the perception for the last two decades as emphasized by most of the employers. and in some cases. managers. interviews are usually tape recorded and transcribed verbatim. It is stressed that this is possible through innovations both in production processes and fulfilling the increasing demand of the market. . opinions. 1. As a matter of practice. Discussions were held with the owners. along with free flowing. For this research purpose.

jute. railways. trams. Only 6 out of 36 foundry units (around 17%) are found to have upgraded their machinery in the last decade. For Howrah foundry units this requires additional funding to the already comatose industry. A large number of foundry units (12 out of 36. According to them. textiles. Some mention (6%) that they now need lesser number of skilled labors since the automation takes care of the production. fine finish and little machine tolerance. for Howrah to compete with industrial belts from states like Gujarat and Bihar. The foundry industry in Howrah came up to supply intermediate inputs to industries of shipbuilding. While discussing automation. most of the foundry owners believed that the future lies in increased automation in the industry. etc. high precision in pattern. 10 foundry units allege that they faced Labor union problems as automation would result in the threat of large number of laborer sacking. On the other hand . Changes affecting the labor relation On the question of how these changes in the production process have affected the labor relations in the firm. Cast iron soil pipes and manhole as covers were by also the produced suggested Government of India to meet domestic and foreign demands (Government of India 1958). some amount of government support is needed. Changes in the production systems/technology over these years While sharing their understandings on some major changes in the production system and/or technology over the years. around 33%) confirm that they backed out from their planning of up gradation because of huge first time investment. 2. there are mixed responses. 3. The stringent environmental laws require sophisticated furnace equipment and advanced divided blast cupola. foundry units of Howrah need up gradation that requires huge first time investments.especially to those from the eastern India that bothered the most. Such funding is almost impossible except governmental intervention in terms of subsidy and easy loans to purchase and implement the technology. Nowadays there is a growing demand for castings with thin wall sections. For catering to this market.

which according to them will attract more entrepreneurs to invest in this industry. This would mean job loss for not only to those people directly associated with the foundry unit. Many a times it so happened that the firm suffered because the workers suddenly went on strike right in the middle of some important production schedule. but also to those associated micro industries that feed from these foundry units by supplying necessary things and services. Around 18% wished for constant supply of raw . Some firms (29%) also mention that there exists an increasing problem of labor availability. the owners have different suggestions. As other Indian states went ahead in the race. Around 16% of the respondents also note that there has been a lull on the labor migration to Howrah market as a whole. and ultimately in closure of the unit altogether. the order deadline might be over by few weeks if not more. Around 15% of the respondents want simplified labor laws. Main changes that need to take place in the labor market With regard to the main changes that need to happen in labor market. They feel that halting production process midway by going to strike over some demands may actually result in lock out. losses for the company concerned. 4. By the time normalcy restored. leaving Howarh in a lurch. Almost 10% of the respondents are of the view that labor loyalty on the whole has decreased over time. A very high percentage (35%) of owners stressed on improved work culture to revive the industry. Close on the heels (25%) is their concern on rising labor cost that needs to be checked in order to lower production cost and offer competitive price in the market.some mention (27%) that there is a need for more skilled workers now as they need to operate automated machinery. the labor force also goes west and south bound.

perceptions about lifelong learning in the organization and processes of selection of workers. Only a few (7%) reason that more orders from governmental agencies like Railways and relaxation on strict environmental rules are needed to bring around the industry.materials at a reasonable and stable price. Communication between worker and between hierarchies With respect to internal communication and learning. bonus. providing food to workers also is noted as incentive to manage workers by some firms (7%). 1. the foundry units (33%) seem to have practices of holding weekly / monthly meetings to discuss issues related to production and other sorts of labor grievances. an overwhelming number of the foundry owners (90%) responded that they do it by providing overtime. Interestingly. and other perks that includes organizing feasts and drinks during pujas. The fluctuating price of raw materials makes the situation more difficult for the firms. training workers for multiple tasks. It appears that are these mostly interactions restricted to stock taking rather than specific trainings. Managing labor force for own advantage With regard to managing the labor force to one’s advantage. Only 3% owners indicated that they do this by giving trainings in multiple tasks. B) Hiring (and/or contracting) and retaining practices of the firm The practices of appointing/contracting new employees and fostering employees within the foundry units are assessed though questions regarding processes of internal communication and learning. formation of linkages with other such organizations. 5. The majority (42%) mention unions act .

Here workers also learn from their senior peers while on the job indicating learning by doing as the strategy. However. None mentions any unique strategy to foster communication through which new knowledge may be shared. A meager 2% of the firms confess managing laborers through third party contractors. The number of permanent workers in these units is usually in singular digits.as the mediator between the firm and the labor force. About 28% claimed providing better working condition in terms of safety is the way to retain the better portion of the workforce. The other 3% reveal that currently their operation is run by loaning laborer from other units with their consent when needed. providing extra incentives and perks (23%) is mentioned as the strategy. Many of the smaller foundry units (20%) affirm that the proprietor and the laborers have direct access to each other with no mediator. This proves to be the most favored one in all such case studies. upon further investigation it is revealed that these units depend mainly on contractual workers managed through the contractors. in some foundry units (27%) there is facility to access loans from workers cooperative and perks being given for workers’ medical treatment and their children’s education (20%). Most of the industries (43%) also have in house peer training programs. Networking with other organizations The firms are asked about their networking with other organizations like educational institutes. A sufficient number (37%) of the foundry units interviewed has established tie ups with the local training institutes (ITI and Polytechnics) for accessing trainings. 3. Retaining better skilled and knowledgeable workers With regard to keeping better skilled workers within the organization. Besides. governmental bodies etc. The focus of training in all the . in promoting for the development of the labor force and for better adaptation to new production systems. 2.

according to some). Observation by the supervisor/ team leader is the tool used to assess the performance. labor is employed on contract. especially from the railway industry. but something more than that. Although the contractor appears as a separate employer in official statement. is not merely a labor contractor in the usual sense of the term. 4.foundry units is on technical aspects. Contextualizing Labor Market Since the 1970s. experience. The contractor gets commission on the basis of weight of delivered product. and lockouts preceded by labor stoppages have brought about changes in the nature of employment in the foundry industry. the foundries of Howrah had to undergo profound changes in the labor processes. The assessment of workers performance is linked to the quality of the output being produced. he is hired most of the time. The majority (30%) indicates that the workers who have exposure to all aspects of production are preferred and valued most. finished castings. Drastic decline in orders for castings. Around 24% say that if a worker has good recommendation from another firm or a known contractor. in a foundry. Around 16% indicate that hiring specialized hand becomes necessary in case of precision works. Thereafter. Only a few foundry owners employ permanent workers in furnace related activities. It also includes the time taken to produce the output. Around 17% of the foundry units indicate that sometimes they access technical trainings from outside agencies. and technical qualifications as the parameters for recruitment. Though only 4% say that novices are hired from time to time. The owner(s) contract out the whole process of starting from moulding to loading. A contractor. they are not . In every foundry there is a panel of contractors who maintain the payroll of employed workers. age. they are trained through peer learning and hand on training. Hiring practices Questions related to selection process reveal that the foundry units look in the worker the willingness to work (most important criterion.

The kind of subcontracting is a mixture of both industrial subcontracting and labor subcontracting.2000 /‐ to 3000/‐ per ton of castings. There are different grades of skilled and unskilled workers according to their assignment in the production process. This fact evokes a deeper analysis to the host of constraints in the forward and backward linkages that these small foundries presently face.outsiders in a foundry rather very much internalized in the production organization. but this varies according to the nature of work. Normally the worker works 10 to 12 hours per day. (31. Beyond that it is also sharing of management responsibilities in securing orders as well as that of transportation and delivery. 1998). With decreasing orders. In most of the small foundries there are one or two fixed ‘charging days’ in a week. weak trade unions and none to execute minimum wage legislations. Hence the labor market in Howrah can be characterized as fairly flexible with contractual labor. On an average. the day in which melting operation is carried out. which is disposed of by the contractor to his group of workers according to their occupational grades. the number of charging days in a month is reduced and as a response the skilled permanent workers related to furnace activities are gradually turned into contract laborers. Minimum monthly wages of unskilled workers in an iron foundry as declared under the Minimum Wage Act. i.12. The trade unions say that in recent times they could not push workers’ demands even in bigger units as they apprehend threats of lockouts or closure. In most of the units studied so far. the labor cost paid by the owner is about Rs.e. periodic wage increment of the workers has been either stopped or reduced to a mere formality. the stagnation of the cluster can be explained neither by low profitability of firms nor by low productivity of labor. And. which could even destroy their existing opportunity of earnings. . In a ‘charging day’. Only the skilled workers in Howrah actually have a monthly income above this minimum level and the unskilled workers often receive much lower than the scheduled minimum wages. The labor contractors secure orders of castings. buy molten metal from the foundry owner and then organize moulding and casting operations. the cupola runs for four to eight hours according to the size of the units.97) is Rs.1673 per month (Government of West Bengal.

The analyses from . This article focuses on the issue of employability within the foundry units which continue to be one of the important economic establishments in India. Employability processes are very much rooted in the history and the position of the specific sector in the economy. nothing very innovative seems to be in place to foster employability in these firms. The vast technological changes in the modes of production have also resulted in demands for newer skills in labor. change in routine of jobs and an emphasis on lifelong learning appeared to be insignificant. There appears to be emphasis on trainings and building linkages with training institutes. the rest of them think that efficient production systems might have boosted the growth in the industry and the need of the skilled labor might have gone up. It also appears to be a process that has gained currency in recent times to tackle the market pressures of high competition and also opening of new markets. From the study conducted with 36 sample foundry units in Howrah district. some interesting patterns emerge. concerted efforts to infuse employability through peer learning. however. some fear that it might also result in lesser requirement of skilled labor. With regard to the practice of employability in the foundry units. Assuming that increased automation would lead to more efficient production systems. suggests that increased level of automation needs more skilled labor. Some foundry owners indicate that presently there is a lack of such workforce since the educational system in general does not equip a student with necessary skills. This first point suggests that requirement of skilled workers is diminishing with increased automation as now fewer skills in labor are needed as automated machines have replaced the human skills.Conclusion Employability is understood to be a process of on-going learning of new skills and being adaptable for multi functions. owners suggest that automation has reduced the need of skilled labor as automated machines have replaced the manual work whereas some entrepreneurs have indicated that more skilled labor is now needed to operate the automated machines. however. Most of the industries mention that the level of automation in their industry is not yet fully accomplished and few of the production processes are automated. On the other hand. The second point. In some foundry units.

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